Part 1: Performance

Part 2: Gallery and Documentation

In a filmed artist interview showing now at the Hedreen Gallery, Stefan Gruber refers to his animated bunnies as “the prey who will not be preyed upon.” And yet there is definitely something weighing down the protagonists of Paige Barnes’ multi-media dance work Lead Bunny as they navigate the tough task of occupying space together, as humans must. And need to. Negotiations between dancers are constant throughout the work—as two duets that center around hitting oneself audibly at the same time as touching the other gently and a repeated image of a group of the dancers towering threateningly over the curled up body of one or two others.

The sense of schoolyard bullying is partially invoked here and in Jme Frank’s amalgam costumes of uniforms, but most strongly in Gruber’s child-like, flipbook-style animations. Both playful and transcendent, these awkwardly tall bunnies lick the air in swirls with their tongues, karate kick and then malform into block-y shards, puff up and deflate their heads with a massive migraine. In this world when a little girl kisses a bunny, it makes everything go fuzzy with delight.

The piece emits a disparate, mult-sensory experience. Plastic helmets that have been molded individually to each dancer’s head either cage their faces with vertical bands or frame them with tribal-like feathers. Early on the clear, pitch-perfect voice of Paris Hurley and her fellow tape players sound off against multiple sites of dance action. Alice Gosti hurls and slams chairs down on the wood floor, seemingly oblivious to the duet happening around her. There is the use of language (sometimes in French) conveying shy friendship, the politeness of speech, the obligatory “sorry’s” and “thank you’s” of the social contract. Superb lighting by ilvs strauss changes modes and moods, at one point indelibly casting the dancers’ shadows like a row of scheming dominos, each trying to be taller than the one before. There is a richness in this cacophony and its sensitivity to sound and texture.

Lead Bunny was created under a principle of appropriation from pre-existing parts. Hurley’s bit of song is taken from a composition she made for Helga Hizer’s performance at Project: Space Available last year. The bunny animations are derived from a specific sequence of Gruber’s previous work. Barnes has great, eclectic taste in her collaborators. Even her dancers exhibit the broadest range possible—from a first-time dancer to a professional ballet dancer. And she finds a way to knit these elements together so each individual’s artistic voice is seen and heard while contributing to the whole.

However, some of the weaker moments are in the dance itself, where the level of inventiveness is not at the same level of these other elements. A long group section of surging and receding floor phrases is observably taxing on the dancers, yet doesn’t seem to offer anything beyond competently arranged phrases to be found in any modern dance class using release methods. The ending solo by ballet dancer Vincent Cuny is a semi-pretentious series of tendus, passés, entrechat quatres, and entrechat trois until he allows the real exhaustion he is experiencing to show physically in his movement.

Lead Bunny is expansive and appealing to those who love artistic polyglotism. As a culmination of Barnes’ body of work dealing with human interaction, however, this viewer wishes the very heart of the piece had something more specific to say. The section that seemed most to inform content was performed in unison, the dancers in waders and feather helmets, a musician sitting to the side singing and keeping time with a wooden block. Slow, methodic arm gestures combined with simple side-to-side stepping showed how each dancer’s experience of the same movement differed; and as the pattern became more complicated, each dancer used his or her individual sense of physical intelligence and mental acuity to function as a unit. That’s tough for humans to do, and that’s why rituals and ritual dances exist, as a way to put us all to a similar task. It’s also a process of making the unknown familiar, taking mysterious processes and giving them a formalized outcome. Rituals help define us in the same way a uniform denotes a certain class status within the social hierarchy. In that way Barnes gives us just a hint of content beyond the sensitive human’s psyche into the broader cultural implications of humans as social animals. That’s meaty stuff that I hope Barnes will continue to explore through dance.